Overland Out

Accommodation location

We set out to travel from England to Asia without flying. A slower, more sedate approach, in a time when time flies and life is gone in a flash, we wanted to slow time and see things properly. We also wanted to see how we would cope with life on the road. So after 190 days rocking and rolling the final transport count from Kenilworth to Kuala Lumpur is:-

Trains – 30
Buses – 25
Tube/metro – 20
Taxis – 14
Tuk Tuks/Songthaews – 8
Minivans – 8
Ferries/Speedboats/dinghies – 11

If anyone is considering doing it, do it.

Is there anything I would do differently? At my age, I’d bring nasal hair trimmers.

Have we learnt anything? Well, we already suspected but now we know that your average person is kind and helpful and stereotypes are not always true. Russian and Chinese train conductors, grannies, shopkeepers, dinnerladies, waiters, hoteliers, policemen, security guards and people on the street have all helped us when we have been lost or in need of something. We thank them all.

20.10.2016 UB to Beijing 

Up before dawn to get to train station.  We get there before the train will let anyone on so we sit on the platforming chatting to other travellers, I have never been this sociable this early in the morning.

We settle down on the Mongolian train noting that this is the cleanest and plushest train yet, there is even a t.v. for every bunk (albeit they don’t work) . We are joined by a Canadian, Melody, who is our chatty companion for the journey and we watch the steppes of Mongolia pass by whilst getting excited by the upcoming prospect of China.

The train is full of backpackers, and even though there were 10 of us who left our hostel to board this train we don’t meet any of them. We do meet some from our previous journey to UB (if you have been to Ulan Baataar then you can call it UB) it is getting to be a small world.

I am on nil by mouth still so Guy spends his time eating Bone Soup pot noodle and a particularly spicy cayenne pepper pot noodle along with snacks of peanuts, raisins, and 2 varieties of chocco pie and a mystery pastry we bought that is full of mincemeat type thing. I am fine with this and am stoically silent (kind of).

The Gobi desert passes our window however it is not very desert like (photo below for me Mum).

We then have a passport border check. On the Mongolian side they are brisk and friendly which we expect from Mongolians now.

A 30 min train ride through no man’s land and we are in China, it is 7pm, and the first set of border guards are also, to our surprise, friendly, they collect our passports. Another set come through with sniffer dogs and do bag searches. Finally we have a guard with a hand held device that he vaguely shoves in everyone’s direction that we have no idea what it was for, but later find out was probably a heat gun. Good thing it didn’t pick up alcohol heat as Guy had started on the voddy by this stage!

Now we need to change bogeys, which sounds wrong to me, but many men are fascinated with this and point their massive camera lenses out the window hoping for a snapshot of a bogey! For the unaware changing bogeys in train speak means changing the wheels on a train and involves (in China) 6 hours of being shunted back and forth with lots of clattering and crashing around, so no chance to sleep until past 1pm.

Further down our carriage a group on a tour were singing popular songs so we played guess the artist. I lost (only recognising Take that and Soft Cell,wasn’t quick enough for Bon Jovi, Guy beat me to that!!!). By this stage we had an Australian woman and a Japanese/ Canadian in our carriage and a vodka taste test was underway.

I sat and watched. We got to bed after 1.30.

19.10.2016 Ulaan Bataar 

We had a plan to see the National Museum, black market and Chinggis Brewery bar where Badz’s Dad has an engraved glass today. They were all closed due to the elections. 

No drinking due to the election, no museums or anything fun to do (shops were open!).

We have done no museums here!

So we wandered around the city, went to the supermarket for train supplies and saw the Beatles square. 

I went home, rapidly, as call of nature was happening which I was gutted abut so spent the day in the hostel. 

Guy had a good explore of the back streets, and ended up in a Korean restaurant for a slap up meal which he enjoyed. 

Spent evening catching up with blogs etc as there is nothing else to do. 

Mongolia Trip Day 5 18.10.16

Wake up cold. No overnight visitor loading the fire. We layer up and head to main ger for boiled eggs, pancakes and rice pudding. We introduce putting jam into rice pudding in Mongolia.

Al stays near the fairy lights in the long drop while myself and Badz head up the valley to a Buddhist temple. It has snowed overnight and flakes are still falling making the pine trees look wonderful.

The walkway to the temple has boards alongside with Buddhist proverbs.

We cross a wobbly bridge and climb the temple steps where an old man is shovelling snow. Hats and shoes off and we head into an intimate quiet place. There are paintings of famous meditators around the walls and cloth covered mantras either side of the main altar. Outside are images of earth, heaven and hell with some graphic images.

We trudge back to the ger camp for one last traditional meal of beef, rice, chips and coleslaw (This is at 11.15, 1h 45min since breakfast) The addition of two squirts of ketchup onto the rice balls pleases me.

We head off for the final leg of the trip. Out of the valley and the snow disappears. Soon we arrive at an enormous stainless steel Chenggis Khan statue. We enter in the plinth and see the worlds largest boot.

Into the lift and we emerge from Chenggis’s crotch for a commanding view of the landscape.

Back in the van for the final, final leg (I can smell shower gel) and we drive back into UB on the road we used yesterday. We stop at the Zaisen World War Two memorial to the south of the city and I have to be honest that as we pulled up, I wasn’t bothered about it. There is a Russian tank that went to Berlin at the base of the climb, and we ascend slowly up to the memorial. The view over UB is only hampered by the grey skies. The Soviet / Mongolian built monument is beautiful and well worth delaying a shower for an hour. There are Soviet mosaics depicting how Russia has assisted Mongolia throughout their history including defeating the Nazis and going into space. I love the design.

Back at the bottom we enter a really posh shopping centre for the loo. I see my face for the first time in 4 days and its covered in ginger and white hair. We smell too, so waiting for Al, I linger outside Gucci shouting ‘choo choo’

Back in the van for the final final final leg (shower gel in coat pocket) and we pick our way through the crazy UB traffic back to the hostel. We say our goodbyes to Badz and Moogii who have been excellent guides and kept us entertained in the van by punching each other unexpectedly. We have loved this trip a lot and its thanks to them really.

Al showers, then I shave and shower and feel clean. Then like any self respecting traveller who has been living in a ger on the Mongolian steppe for four days we head straight to the Grand Khan Irish Pub where the delicious local dark ale is supped and we reminisce and ponder and discuss how much we love stretching our comfort zones.

KFC for tea.

Mongolia Trip Day 4 17.10.16

Our sleeping companion awakes. He is American. We chat with him and our French Canadian friend over bread and jam. 

Our companions leave and we have a goodbye with the family (not Dorio as he is our checking his herd). Dolgor not content with doing breakfast has time to make us a mini ger out of wool. Ace!

The kids are getting dropped off at school as part of our tour so we are all thrown around the van as Moogi demonstrates his rally driving skills one more time.  

We see a vulture fly over the van, it has a 3m wing span and it looks massive.

Music in the car has been Mongolian so nothing we have recognised until we get a soft rock version of Simon and Garfunkels Sound of silence, which was really odd to hear in the middle of Mongolia. 

We had lunch at same service station as way out, Guy had my meal from before, burger, egg, salads and rice. I had chicken, rice and salads. It was pretty decent. 

As we approach UB, the previously clear blue skies become grey over the city. You can see and taste the pollution. The pastoral and industrial worlds collide as cows wander through petrol stations and along dual carriageway central reservations. It is also normal to use a petrol station as a short cut, which is thrilling!! 

We swing right to drive round the south and east of the city past new developments and the Mongolian presidents house. A proposed future wealthy playground or a white elephant of unusually designed buildings?

We are on our way to Teralji National Park where one attraction is Turtle rock. I think you can see why it is so named.

Our accommodation tonight is a tourist ger. Luxury. We have a light switch, open ended beds, coal instead of dung, coat stand and fairy lights on long drops which are brand new so smell of woodchip which is a pleasant change. There was also a glimpse of cabbage in the kitchen, I am excited at the thought of vegetables.

We relax for an hour then walk up hill behind our ger camp with Badz for wonderful view of park at sunset. Badz is 24 and so leaps like a mountain goat up there, We are more sedate and careful. There views are stunning, and we have pine trees again. 

We go into main ger and meet a Korean lass there, chat and then have dinner of potato, meat and cabbage soup with dumplings. It is steaming hot and fabulous.  There is no dad or kid around so mum in law gets tea towel and soap present the rest we keep (whoop, extra vodka!!!).

We head back to ours for vodka and kids sweets and relax. Suddenly we get a visitor through our door, the kid of the ger, swiftly followed by the dad, then Badz and then the Korean lass, so the sweets and vodka are given out. The dad disappears with our vodka, comes back with another (more expensive but smaller bottle of vodka). We then engage with the now familiar rounds of vodka shots and learn that you should never pour your own drink, and always present and accept with your right hand.

Dad and kid disappear and we spend a lovely couple of hours with Badz and Korean lass discussing Chinggis Khan, Korea and history of this area. 

16.10.2016 Mongolia Trip Day Three

As promised we had our cast iron hearth topped up with animal dung at 3am ensuring we were toasty when we woke up to the snowfall. There are no problems with privacy here as there are no locks and Mongolians will just walk into any ger without knocking, it isn’t considered rude and we are getting used to it and when it is beneficial, for example you need your hearth refuelling at 3am, it is most welcome. 

Throughout the night you can hear the sound of sheep and goats shuffling around the ger, we had been warned to keep the door closed as the dogs would try to open the door if they were afraid of something. The dogs are there to defend the animals from wolves by barking and scaring them off, if that doesn’t work the want to come inside (which I don’t blame them).

In the morning we tentatively poked our heads our the door and saw the light dusting of snow covering the surrounding countryside which was picturesque but flipping freezing considering our main activity of the day was a 4 hour horse ride.  We went back into the toasty ger to try and get our heads around the day!!! 

Badz appeared with breakfast, bread, hot water, jams, German pate etc and we dived in. At least it was all familiar food. 

We waited around for sometime as the Dad of the ger,  Dorio, was off tending his herd and getting the mares ready for our trekking. In the meantime Gran had to leave for town so we said our goodbyes, gave her a gentle hug (otherwise we would have smothered her). She is quite the loveliest Mongolian I have met. 

Both of us were a little uncertain about this activity, neither of us being particularly horsey people, the last time I attempted horse riding was in New Zealand and my mate Colette can testify that I was no natural (not helped by my horse being slightly tempestuous).

Thankfully Mongolian mares are smaller and more placid so that immediately made me feel better than the huge beasts you encounter at home.  We were dressed up in traditional Mongolian horse riding outfits which thankfully are not tight jodphers and unfortunately no helmets. Although we look a hoot these clothes were really warm when it was freezing and breathable when it warmed up. 

We got dressed up by Badz and Dorio, I felt like I was five years old again,  being dressed by someone else. We then managed to clamber onto the mares, it wasn’t pretty or easy.

My mare was on a leash and being coaxed a long by Dorio, Guy was on his own but managing to steer, stop and go albeit along the lines of a knackered shopping trolley. Mine was a stubborn lazy mare, I spent all the time at the back, a good 10m at the back, with not much success in getting her to go any quicker. I did have a teeny whip but was too nice to use it. Every once in a while the dad just came up behind and shouted ‘Choo Choo’ at which point her selective deafness disappeared and she got a move on. 

Off we trotted along the valley where were were staying. It was a simply stunning with the snow covering the hillsides and the herds of sheep, goat,  cows and horses on the periphery. Every few kilometres there was another ger with suitably positioned long drop. After a while the sunshine came through the clouds and the scenery became epic. The wide valley now has snow capped mountains on the horizon, and we are riding with a rock escarpment on our right and then we follow a trail into a mini valley, surrounded on all sides by imposing rocks. In the distance we can see some ruins and a temple teetering on the rock face and we trot, slowly in my case, towards it.

We disgracefully dismount (I nearly take Dorio out) and sit and stretch our legs. Dorio pulls out a COLD can of Heineken from his swollen coat! How he kept it cold I don’t know but we all took a swig and Tok Tooy’ed each other til the can was finished. We then wandered around the temples, clambered up to the teetering temple and enjoyed the views, then scrambled down to wander through the ruins (Badz said these were from the Mongal empire) and marvel at the trees (maybe eucalyptus?) which were in various states of decay. 

The journey back was at an amble and with the sun shining and blue skies returning it was simply stunning. Dorio got our horses to canter as we near home and even mine gets going for a bit. On dismounting Guy seems to be in agony as I think his reins were too short so he has the John Wayne look about him. 

Lunch in the ger was horsemeat soup with hand made noodles and potatoes which is delicious.

 The mum, Dolgar, not content with having served up lunch for everyone then carries on working making donuts (flour, water and jam) for about 50 people. I help with cutting up the dough and she fries them all off. We get to taste them and they are absolutely delicious. 

She is an amazing woman, out milking the mares in all weather’s, cooking for about 10 people each meal as the uncle and other relatives live with them to help with their 1600 (approx) herd, toss in a few tourists turning up with their guides and drivers who need feeding makes her a human dynamo. 

Dorio pulls out 4 freezing Heineken’s from under a bed and we watch satellite tv (intermittently). Beer finished we retire to our ger and the uncle and daughter come in, unannounced, for a game of snakes and ladders, Mongolian style, We let the daughter win (!).

We need to stretch Guys legs and aching parts so take a walk up the escarpment just behind the ger. There are breathtaking views, again. 

We have new friends in our ger, a guy who is passed out and doesn’t wake up til the morning (it is 6pm) and a French Canadian who is off for a horseride with Dorio. Outside the sheep and cashmere goat flock is heading towards the ger in formation making a gentle munching sounds as they enclose our ger camp for the night. 

The sun disappears and leaves the steppes tinged with orange and purple.

We head over for dinner and chat to the French Canadian lass watching Dolgar create another meal from mutton and noodles. As a canape we have off cuts from the sheeps head that was cooked earlier. Tough but tasty is my verdict. We also had a boiled rib which was a bit fatty but the meat was rich and chewy. I am still wondering where the luscious lamb leg and shoulder meat is. 

We settle down to watch Mongolias Got Talent with the family, tourists and guides. We are routing for the teenagers playing traditional Mongolian instruments, the trio dressed as cats doing acrobatics and hula hoops are engaging.
Guy has Mongolian milky tea and the dad has disappeared never to be seen again which means we have to have our medicinal vodka in our tent straight from the bottle. The French Canadian isn’t too shocked.

Mongolia Trip day 2 15.10.16

After tea last night, we asked Badz what would happen with the leftovers and he replied it would be reheated into breakfast, so with some relief we welcomed his unannounced entry into our ger with bread, liver pate, jam buns and tea.

The temperature had noticeably dropped and the wind had risen. Cows were now settled infront of our ger. We waved bye to mum and shy crazy daughter while dad hacked up round the back. Dirt track. High speed. Bouncing. Tarmac.

Before you can ponder how immense this epic landscape is we’re at Erdene-Zuu, the oldest Buddhist Monastery in Mongolia. The main temple buildings appear to my ignorant eye very Chinese in character with pagoda roofs and tiles. We enter the subsidiary buildings which have images of various Buddhist deities hanging and Badz explains their meanings to us. The main three temples have huge statues of Buddha as a young, middle aged and old man. We hear a loud chanting and Badz explains morning prayers have started so we head inside to see monks banging drums, clashing cymbals, blowing conches and singing. We respectfully sit at the back and watch the rituals.

Next location is Khakhorum, literally round the corner from the monastery. This was the old capital of the Mongol empire, founded by Chengis Khan, brought to glory by his son Ogdei and abandoned by his grandson Kublai who moved the capital to Beijing and founded the Chinese Yuan dynasty. Not much remains now as the stones were reused to build the monastery. The are info boards about an archaeological dig undertaken here and a modern plinth representing the post holes of a palace on the site. My imagination runs wild with what was happening here during the late 13th century.

But enough daydreaming, stomachs need feeding. We drive into the local town Kharkhorin and stop at a cafe. Once again I copy Badz and have fried small dumplings, deep fried crspy pancakes, milk tea with salt and Al has fried rice with kimchi. 

We need to stop in at the shops for tonights tea so we head to Khakorlin market. Its a dusty wild west affair, with meat being sold off pickups, farmers sat around on their motorbikes and young men playing pool on tables outside. One of the Mongolian specialities is airag, an mildly alcoholic drink made from fermented horses milk and there is a shop here that produces a good quality one. The shop has an overpowering unctuous odour of fermenting dairy. There are huge blue tubs of milk and cheese and a mound of cows butter in an inflated cows stomach on the counter. Badz buys 10 litres of airag and we try some out of a bowl. It has the sharpness of a goats cheese leaving a slight fizz on the tongue.

Next is meat for tonight so we head to the horse meat van, where piles of very red meat with very yellow fat sit on cardboard. We buy what we need and high from our market experience, head to a museum.

The museum is closed, so as an alternative we head to penis rock.

The cloud has edged out the blue sky and the wind has dropped the temperature so its back in the van to head to tonights camp.

We head off the main road and drive towards a rock escarpment jutting out of a wide plain. This is Khogno Khan where we will stay for the next two nights.

The family are out working with their flock but there are three other backpackers here who have been on a 30 day tour! Crumbs. We say hello and then they retreat to their ger and us to ours. This is a summer camp so the ger is not sealed at the bottom and force drafts swirl around our ankles.

I head to the most remote but picturesque longdrop I’ve ever seen sandwiched between beige steppe and pale blue sky.

The temperature is dropping and back in the ger the fire is fading. A Grandma suddenly appears at the door, steps into the ger and shuts out the cold wind behind her. She is stooped and small and weatherbeaten but tougher than us soft westerners. She opens the hearth door and mutters to herself. Over the next 10 mins she fetches fuel, builds the fire, lights it, patches a hole in the ger where draughts are coming in whilst constantly talking to herself. We are both utterly captivated by her and her cheeky grin. We find out later she is 77.

Toasty, we relax a bit waiting for the nod for tea. A bird flies out from under Al’s bed startling us both. It attempts to fly out of the clear plastic at the top of the ger near the chimney pipe. We casually dive out of the door and a few seconds later out flies the bird.

Our next visitor announces tea and we head to the family ger for deepfried horsemeat dumplings. They are rich and sweet and delicious. I eat five. Al doles out presents for the family and Dad ( Dorio) opens the vodka. We have first go, then Dad, Mum (Dolgor), two tour drivers, two tour guides, two family helpers and mums nephew. Only Grandma and the kids miss out. I’m amazed at how many people are in the tent. The men are also drinking homemade airag which I get handed. Its smoother and less sharp than the one earlier. The thirteen year old daughter (Altantsetseg, which means Golden Flower) shows us photos on her phone and practices her English. Eventually the vodka is finished and we’re told that due to the strong winds the family may have to herd the sheep now so they don’t lose any of their flock in the night, so we leave them to it and trudge back through the fresh snow to our ger. We are asked if we mind someone coming in at 3am to add fuel to the fire, we reply that we don’t mind at all.

Romantically, we fell asleep to flickering firelight from the hearth and in the warmth, the smell of mutton fat dripping on the floor from the piece of meat hanging from the ceiling.